| Two-time World bronze medalist Justin "Harry" Lester.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Date of competition: Tuesday, September 8
Entering its second year of existence, the Greco-Roman weight class of 71 kg/156 lbs. has built some solid depth to go along with the short list of established contenders vying for the gold medal at the World Championships in Las Vegas.
Topping the list of gold medal favorites is World No. 1 Rasul Chunayev of Azerbaijan who finished with the 71 kg bronze medal at last years Worlds in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Chunayev won the European Games held in Baku, Azerbaijan in June defeating World No. 3 Balint Korpasi of Hungary in the finals. The European Games gold came on the heels of Azerbaijan winning the nation’s first ever Greco-Roman World Cup. Chunayev was a key cog in the World Cup victory, defeating reigning World champion Chingiz Labazanov of Russia in the gold medal final.
At only 24 years old, Chunayev has amassed an impressive list of credentials including two University World gold medals and two Junior World bronze medals on top of his impressive senior level results.
The man who defeated Chunayev at last year’s World Championships, World No. 8 Yunus Ozel of Turkey, is expected to be a major player at 71 kg, even after a subpar 2015 campaign.
Ozel is the reigning World silver medalist at 71 kg but has only placed at two of the five international competitions he has wrestled in this season. These up and down results begs the question if Ozel was a one hit wonder at the World Championships last year.
World No. 2 Afshin Byabangard of Iran appears poised for another medal run at the World Championships after taking home the bronze medal in Tashkent last year.
The Iranian won a 66 kg bronze medal at the Asian Games one week after his first World medal on the senior level. Since then he has competed only once internationally, winning gold at the Dan Kolov – Nikola Petrov Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria in April.
Prior to 2015 Hungary’s Korpasi has posted a mixed bag of results, but he has surged to the No. 3 World ranking after going three-for-three on medals during international competition this year.
Korpasi won a field featuring three of the current top five ranked wrestlers in the World at the Hungarian Grand Prix in March. Moreover, the Hungarian tacked on a silver medal at the European Games and a bronze at the Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Cup this season.
World No. 6 Yuri Denisov appears to be the 71 kg guy for Russia with World champion Labazanov electing to move up to 75 kg for the Worlds this year.
Denisov has had a quality 2015 campaign winning gold medals at both the Herman Kare Tournament and the Ljubomir Ivanovic Gedza International. The lone red flag for Denisov is a ninth place finish at the European Games where he lost to World No. 5 Mindia Tsulukidze of Georgia.
Tsulukidze finished in fifth place at the European Games, but has not had a medal winning performance at an international event this season.
Two-time World bronze medalist and 2012 Olympian Justin Lester will take the mat in Las Vegas for the United States at 71 kg.
Based on his 2014 World Championships performance, Lester has proven he can compete with the top ranked wrestlers at 71 kg. In Tashkent, Lester defeated Tsulukidze 4-0 in the first round before falling to Chunayev 9-7 in the second round.
Las Vegas will mark Lester’s seventh World Championships in addition to his Olympic appearance in London. He won bronze medals at the 2006 Worlds in Guangzhou, China and the 2007 Worlds in Baku, Azerbaijan in addition to being an integral member of the 2007 U.S. Greco-Roman World Championship team.
Although not currently ranked in the World, should Lester put it all together in Las Vegas he can undoubtedly capture the World Championship that has eluded him in previous years and cement his legacy as one of the top Greco-Roman wrestlers in U.S. history.
UWW WORLD RANKINGS
1. Rasul Chunayev (Azerbaijan)
2. Afshin Byabangard (Iran)
3. Balint Korpasi (Hungary)
4. Ramin Taherisartang (Iran)
5. Mindia Tsulukidze (Georgia)
6. Yuri Denisov (Russia)
7. Daniel Cartaraga (Moldova)
8. Yunus Ozel (Turkey)
9. Sachino Davitaia (Georgia)
10. Ruslan Tsarev (Kyrgyzstan)
11. Ridong Zhang (China)
12. Petter Karlsen (Norway)
13. Rafael Aleksanyan (Armenia)
14. Varsham Boranyan (Armenia)
15. Tomi Hinoveanu (Romania)
16. Dilshod Turdiev (Uzbekistan)
17. Nikolai Savchenko (Ukraine)
18. Ji-Hyun Jung (Korea)
19. Zackarias Tallroth (Sweden)
20. Svilen Kostadinov (Bulgaria)
RECENT WORLD RESULTS
2014 World Championships
71 kg/156 lbs. – Gold – Chingiz Labazanov (Russia); Silver – Yunus Ozel (Turkey); Bronze – Rasul Chunayev (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Afshim Byabangard (Iran); 5th – Varsham Boranyan (Armenia); 5th – Aliaksandr Dzemyanovich (Belarus); 7th – Shermet Permanov (Turkmenistan); 8th – Demeu Zhadrayev (Kazakhstan); 9th –Ionel Puscasu (Romania); 10th – Balint Korpasi (Hungary)